What can Mugabe teach us about #RhodesMustFall?

CAST IN STONE: The grave of Cecil John Rhodes in Zimbabwe

Barely 35 years ago, our northern neighbour Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia. The truth is, Zimbabwe has been wrestling with colonial remnants – and, in particular, Cecil John Rhodes’ remnants – for longer than we have. So what can we learn from this?

This week, a Zanu-PF official attempted to rekindle the conversation about moving Rhodes’ remains to the UK, but it is largely expected that the 2012 decision made by the governing party and President Robert Mugabe will remain party policy. In 2012, Mugabe said Rhodes’ body should not be removed from its burial site in the Matobo National Park, 35km south of Bulawayo. War veterans had demanded that the 1902 grave be exhumed and Rhodes’ remains returned to the UK. They blamed the grave for the lack of rain in the area.But Mugabe blocked the move.

“The call for the removal of the grave is not new, but our view is that it is part of national history and heritage and it should not be tampered with,” said the director of National Museums and Monuments, Godfrey Mahachi.

“This is the reason we are keeping Rhodes’ grave because it is part and parcel of the history of Zimbabwe.

“It continues to be a reminder of the colonisation of this country. It is a tangible element of that history,” he said.

But Zimbabwe does not have a uniform stance about retaining colonial effigies. A statue of Rhodes in Harare was taken down after Mugabe came to power in 1980 and is now stored away from public view in the national archives. Another statue of a man on a horse called Physical Energy, cast in 1959 and very closely associated with the persona of Rhodes, was unveiled in Zambia in 1960. It was removed and rehoused in Zimbabwe, after Zambia’s independence in 1964.

According to Professor Paul Maylam, a former history lecturer at Rhodes University in Grahamstown and the author of The Cult of Rhodes, his university tried to buy the Physical Energy statue. The Zimbabwean government declined.

“So [the statue] remains in the garden behind their archives. When a visitor went to view it a few years ago, he found bees nesting in the horse’s mouth,” says Maylam.

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